Sunday, August 14, 2011

Still a Time for Choosing

Watching Texas Governor Rick Perry announce his candidacy for the 2012 Presidential election, I was struck by the parallels between his remarks and Ronald Reagan's powerful "A Time for Choosing" address to the 1964 Republican Convention, as well as to Reagan's acceptance speech to the 1980 Republican Convention. To illustrate, without reading the texts linked herein, try ascribing the following quotes to either Rick Perry or Ronald Reagan:
Yet anytime you and I question the schemes of the do-gooders, we're denounced as being against their humanitarian goals. They say we're always "against" things—we're never "for" anything.

One in six work-eligible Americans cannot find a full-time job. That is not a recovery. That is an economic disaster.

The major issue of this campaign is the direct political, personal, and moral responsibility of Democratic Party leadership, in the White House and in the Congress, for this unprecedented calamity which has befallen us. They tell us they've done the most that could humanly be done. They say that the United States has had it’s day in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith. They expect you to tell your children that the American people no longer have the will to cope with their problems, that the future will be one of sacrifice and few opportunities.

And what do we say to our children? Y’all figure it out?

This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

No, I do not suggest Rick Perry is another "Great Communicator"--although there is little question that he is far more effective a speaker than Barak Obama. What I do suggest is that Perry's candidacy, much like Reagan's own campaign and subsequent Presidency, is very much a "time for choosing"--choosing not of men but of philosophies of government. I suggest that Perry, much like Reagan in his era, champions a philosophy of small civic government and large civic liberty. I suggest that Perry makes a clear and cogent argument for the virtue of small government, grounded in the success that is the history of the United States of America, and given the mantle of authority by his more than ten years as Governor of Texas.

The debate Rick Perry is championing is a simple one: how much government do we really need? Is government automatically a social good or is it rather more often a social burden? This debate is not new: Thoreau put forward similar questioning in his essay "Civil Disobedience", when he proudly pronounce "that government is best which governs not at all." No less a figure than Thomas Jefferson laid the foundation of that debate, both in his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and again in the Kentucky Resolution of 1798, championing the states' right to nullify federal law.

To be sure, Perry is not alone in his call for small government. Michelle Bachmann has electrified crowds across the country and won the Iowa straw polls with her small government rhetoric, while Ron Paul has, Cassandra-like, warned repeatedly of the inherent unsustainable nature of a large and growing federal government. Still, Perry moreso than Bachmann or Paul lays down the clear philosophical challenge:

You see, as Americans we’re not defined by class, and we will never be told our place. What makes our nation exceptional is that anyone, from any background, can climb the highest of heights. As Americans, we don’t see the role of government as guaranteeing outcomes, but allowing free men and women to flourish based on their own vision, their hard work and their personal responsibility. And as Americans, we realize there is no taxpayer money that wasn’t first earned by the sweat and toil of one of our citizens.

Nor does Perry merely stop with taxes. Again echoing Reagan, Perry put forth a simple assertion of the proper political order in the United States: that government is always subordinate to the will of the people

In America, the people are not subjects of government. The government is subject to the people. And it is up to us, to this present generation of Americans, to take a stand for freedom, to send a message to Washington that we’re taking our future back from the grips of central planners who would control our healthcare, who would spend our treasure, who downgrade our future and micro-manage our lives.

Thus I suggest that, before we consider Perry the candidate, or any contender for the next election to the office of President, we first consider the philosophical gauntlet being laid down--most forcefully by Perry but also by many within the GOP--how much government is too much? How much government is enough?

The coming months and all of 2012 will be filled with paeans and jeremiads for and against all Presidential contenders, Obama included. But before we consider the candidates, we should consider for ourselves how we would answer these questions. As we consider the candidates, we should realize that every election is and will always be a very personal "time for choosing."